From the programme book

Ode to love

Conductor Marc Albrecht and director Christof Loy in conversation with dramaturg Dorothea Hartmann


Erich Wolfgang Korngold
The Miracle of Heliane
Conductor: Marc Albrecht
Director: Christof Loy
With Sara Jakubiak, Josef Wagner, Brian Jagde, Okka von der Damerau, Derek Welton, Burkhard Ulrich, Gideon Poppe, Andrew Dickinson, Dean Murphy, Thomas Florio, Clemens Bieber, Philipp Jekal, Stephen Bronk, Sandra Hamaoui, Meechot Marrero, Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin
From 18 February 2021, 15.00, until 21 February 2021, 
as video on Demand

Dorothea Hartmann
After its premiere in 1927 THE MIRACLE OF HELIANE travelled to twelve opera houses in the German-speaking area. A few years later it had sunk into oblivion and stayed that way until the present day. The pair of you were dead set on staging this work at the Deutsche Oper. Why is that?

Christof Loy
I’m always on the lookout for works hovering on the fringe of the repertoire. And I like investigating titles that were a hit at a particular time and then sank from view. I’d bought a stash of CDs, pretty much the whole of the early 20th century. With THE MIRACLE OF HELIANE I was hooked by the music from the first beat on. And if I think the music has clicked with me, I don’t have any problem falling for the storyline.

Marc Albrecht
The two of us are hunting for treasure in similar ways when it comes to unknown or forgotten works. And I’m an old Korngoldian. When Christof Loy suggested HELIANE, it clicked immediately. If you ask me, this mystery play is actually about a utopia; it requires a holistic kind of approach to theatrical drama and should be an all-encompassing auditory experience not limited to the stage. Korngold pulls out all the stops on the possibilities of tonality uses polytonal chords from start to finish. This sets his score apart from his others.

Christof Loy
THE MIRACLE OF HELIANE is much more nuanced compared to something like THE DEAD CITY, and at the same time more extreme. The emotional range covered by Korngold is huge, ranging from tenderness and fragility to violence! Content-wise, I’ve lately been more attracted by works dealing with a search for the divine or questions relating to an overarching universe.

Dorothea Hartmann
In THE MIRACLE OF HELIANE Korngold goes one step further: it’s not just about issues of transcendence; we’re presented with a real miracle happening on stage. You either believe in it or you construct your own story around it. How religious do you have to be to understand and stage this work?

Christof Loy
You really should have a feel for religiosity, because the only other alternative is to make fun of it. The conviction that miracles might be possible is something that we theatre makers have to bring to work with us. After all, it frees up our imagination. Which is why there are many areas of overlap between theatre and religion.

Marc Albrecht
Operas like Wagner’s PARSIFAL, Messiaen’s SAINT FRANCOIS D’ASSISE and THE MIRACLE OF HELIANE are also about the feasibility of portraying religious content. They are works that take major risks and come across as quite pretentious, even embarrassing, at first. But at second glance you realise that, yes, it’s weird, it’s bold, it’s a tall order, but it’s also a chance. It’s precisely this subject matter that we should be seeing on stage – and on screen.

Christof Loy
Yes! You don’t see film makers having to explain themselves and stump up evidence for extrasensory powers. I’m thinking of older films like “Ordet” by Carl Theodor Dreyer or more recent films like “The Others” with Nicole Kidman, where the viewer doesn’t realise until late in the film that everyone is actually dead but still manifestly present. No one questions the suspension of disbelief in films. In the theatre we should be able to go to work with a similar freedom of creative spirit. After all, we’re telling stories where the stuff that has to be imagined outweighs the stuff that we’re presented with in reality. And the miracles that we’re visualising should be allowed to be acted out on stage.

Dorothea Hartmann
Do these kinds of works have certain musical elements in common? What type of music makes a work more mystical, religious or transcendental?

Marc Albrecht
In THE MIRACLE OF HELIANE the ambience is other-worldly from the first note. We’re only a few bars in and a heavenly, floating chorus strikes up. That isn’t a new device. Strauss’s THE WOMAN WITHOUT A SHADOW has similar choral inserts at the end and PARSIFAL has its disembodied choirs at the close of Acts 1 and 3. One of the things about HELIANE is that this choral dimension is introduced on the first page of the score.

Christof Loy
Yes, it starts with an ode to love, which is actually the core theme of the opera.

Marc Albrecht
It’s a spectacular beginning – and unusual for its time. Most operas started off in laconic mode. I’m thinking of the first pages of Strauss’s SALOME or Schreker’s THE TREASURE HUNTER, where the curtain rises and you’re in the middle of a dialogue. In HELIANE it’s quite different: the opera opens with an exquisite piece of musical mystery followed immediately by a view into the cell of the condemned man. That’s pretty unconventional.

Dorothea Hartmann
…like the central question being addressed, too: what’s going to happen when Heliane gifts her body to the Stranger and takes off her clothes? Is she committing adultery? What is her husband, the Ruler, going to make of it? What does society think of her and what does Heliane think of herself in retrospect?

Christof Loy
The concept of love is constantly being questioned in this work. What has Heliane done? Out of sympathy, maybe to sweeten his last hours, she has fulfilled the wish of the Stranger, a man condemned to death, and gifted him her naked body. The gesture has to do with love but is far removed from what she is accused of before the tribunal – that she has committed adultery and surrendered to lust. And Heliane herself also wavers, wondering if the conventional view of things is perhaps the right way after all and she really is “impure”. And following on from this thinking we may ask ourselves why sexuality is still often considered dirty or reprehensible. Does that not run counter to Heliane’s words: when I am naked, I am “as God created me”. People watching the opera have to think through these concepts for themselves.

Marc Albrecht
Although Heliane shows herself naked, she doesn’t give of herself in any other sense. Musically, too, there’s a non-physical air about her at the beginning. Glassy, bitonal sounds created with harps and celesta, the “heavenly” instruments of the orchestra, denote her untouchability.

Dorothea Hartmann
The big musical moment comes with her great “I went to him” aria in Act 2, the best-known scene, at the halfway point in the opera. Heliane has to come up with an answer, and she works herself up into a veritably ecstatic, intoxicated climax. How much truth is the music conveying here?

Christof Loy
When it’s over, Heliane experiences the purity of that moment as rapture and ecstasy. This is contradictory but, as a thought paradigm, tantamount to a cleansing from conventional ideas of sexuality. With an attitude like that she was bucking the categorisations of the time, when Saint and Whore were presented in all their variations and a female character was lumped on one side or the other. With Heliane we have a character who nullifies the polarity between angel and femme fatale.

Marc Albrecht
In essence, that aria can only really be compared to the closing song sung by Salome: ultimate lust – a theatre of the head. Only the music can do that at this point: show the unshowable. Salome and Heliane are spiritual sisters here.

Christof Loy
Heliane is singing about her devotion to the Stranger, about his pain and mortal fear. And the climax of the aria goes like this: “It was not the blood’s desire that drove me to this boy. But I bore his suffering with him, and in pain I became his”. And the same idea is expressed in the final duet: sinking into the Stranger, dissolving in him, giving herself to him. This is the joy that the opera sets out to describe and of which the two protagonists sing together at the end: “I did not seek myself, but I’ve found you.”

Dorothea Hartmann
Sara Jakubiak and you opted for Heliane to drop all her clothes in your production. What’s the message of the naked female body at this point in the opera?

Christof Loy
In my mind it’s the only way to go, because nudity is the baseline for everything that follows. It was important for us that the set was designed as a realistic space – precisely for the unreal moments like the appearances of Heliane and the Ruler in the prison or the “miracle” that takes place in Act 3. Those moments have a greater impact in a naturalistic setting. And by the same token the natural state of the woman has to be real. By staging this key event in the way we do, we’re trying to get to the core of the work, where nakedness is synonymous with purity. In this way, faith in the beauty of a world created by God can be expressed as a moment of poetry in theatre.

Marc Albrecht
It’s a quiet and exquisite musical moment, in the same way that the entire score is devoted to the quest for beauty, right up to the final direction: “Curtain closes over beauty and light”. And in the course of this first fateful encounter, other energies come tumbling in. Some of it has an almost Puccini-esque quality.

Dorothea Hartmann
Can you expand on that?

Marc Albrecht
Korngold is first and foremost a brilliant melodist. The music underlaying the declarations of love on stage are shot through with italianità, and Korngold’s reverence for Puccini is clearly discernible. The music in HELIANE fuses some of his stylistic elements with traces of Strauss and Wagner.

Christof Loy
When the Stranger gets a bit forward, we’re moving into the realm of verismo. The Stranger’s abrasive way is in sharp contrast to the exalted nature of the moment when Heliane peels off her clothing.

Dorothea Hartmann
The Stranger’s character is on the whole quite contradictory. He swings between possible supernatural redeemer, a Messianic figure, and an ordinary man with basic physical desires.

Christof Loy
I’d be asking the Stranger the same questions I’d be asking of Jesus. Who was this man Jesus really, this mild-mannered, miracle-working man? What was actually going on there with his sexuality? Kaltneker and Korngold may also have been interested in depicting the process by which a redeemer/Jesus figure morphed into an actual man. For me, much of the resolution comes right at the end, when the Stranger talks of the seventh gate and the tests: “Now at the seventh gate, seven times tested and chosen, my love, come!” We realise at this point that all the odd things that had gone on previously were only meant as tests, for instance when the Stranger roughly grabs the naked Heliane. These odd moments are only resolved at the end.

Dorothea Hartmann
Aside from Puccini and the ethereal Heliane music, there’s a third musical level that is introduced with the arrival of the Ruler character.

Marc Albrecht
The Ruler locks up the two main characters, but at the end of the day he’s actually locking himself up, too. His soul has an outer armour, and his empty, bare world receives corresponding expression in the music at first. There’s nothing melodious about it. The music when he makes his first entrance has a rhythmic, hammered verticality to it; there is little variation and no development and it is devoid of creativity. Only in Act 3, when the Ruler is discredited as a human being, a husband, a leader, does he reveal other sides to his character, showing himself to be more human, approachable and vulnerable. So his character does actually evolve over the course of the three acts. At the end he’s almost unrecognisable from what he was at the start. But for Heliane it’s too late.

Dorothea Hartmann
Act 1 revolves around the individual. From the midpoint in Act 2 the chamber piece becomes a work that comments on society. What type of society are we talking about?

Christof Loy
We’re presented with a people living under the yoke of a dictatorship. The story begins at a point when they’re sensing that the Ruler’s grip on power is weakening. Even though the people hate the tyrant, they’re always prepared to bow down and obey his totalitarian decrees. They yearn for a release from their subjugation and are all too ready to put their faith in miracles and saints. When they don’t get what they want, they get their own back and the mass becomes a nasty mob that can be steered and manipulated. We don’t get to see the best side of the nation’s character.

Marc Albrecht
After sitting out the entire first act, the chorus makes up for it in Act 3, with Korngold writing an extremely challenging score that set the bar for choruses to come. The harmony is a marvel. You have beats and dissonances infiltrating ostensibly familiar chords like subtle irritants. HELIANE’s Act 3 really is a one-off in the history of choral music. From there it’s a short step to Schönberg’s MOSES AND AARON.

Dorothea Hartmann
That’s a massive amount of psychology and musical-theatre drama and authentic operatic dramaturgy for a score which people often just see as a window on glitter, scintillating instrumentation and Korngold as the future composer of film music.

Christof Loy
I get so fed up with people criticising composers of film music, whether it’s Korngold, Puccini or Strauss. We’re talking about one genre that emerged from another genre – not the other way round. You can’t criticise these composers for coming up with a musical language that was perfect for a different art form, namely film.

Marc Albrecht
That said, film music led to Korngold being shunned by classical music journalists and critics. It’s obviously unfair that he found himself having to apologise for being one of the few émigré composers who were able to make it in America. But Korngold didn’t go off and do film music and then suddenly become a rubbish composer! Look at his symphony in F-sharp that he wrote right after the Second World War; it’s more proof of his sheer class as a composer. It’s a terrible shame that he stopped writing operas.

Dorothea Hartmann
If you read the directions in the score, you get the feeling that Korngold’s gift is almost synaesthetic. He describes the minutest of lighting nuances. At the beginning, for instance: “Powerful and delicate organ music, while spheric light grows and expands.” And there are a lot of other directions where light is hugely important in conjunction with the music. And that fed into your design of the stage space.

Christof Loy
We were looking for a realistic space that had clear lines and a formal severity, where you could project multiple nuances of light from a lot of different angles. The light shouldn’t be trying to duplicate the music, obviously, but if we were to kick against having any music-light relationship at all, the opera would be much the worse for it. If the light goes along with the music, people will hear the music differently.

Dorothea Hartmann
If we stick with the start of the opera and the first notes: we have a sequence of chords as an opener. None of the chords can really be described as tonal; they’re all honed or bitonal and don’t follow on logically from one another in a tonal sense. So how does Korngold manage to achieve a musical syntax? What’s holding the chords together?

Marc Albrecht
Melody. It’s the only way he can do it. Aurally, the listener is being drawn horizontally, but at the same time Korngold is experimenting vertically. The stacking of chords is 100% experiment. Naturally, we get bitonality with Stravinsky and Strauss and others, but in our case it has a totally different feel, because Korngold is coming up with melodies for these patchwork chords.

Dorothea Hartmann
THE MIRACLE OF HELIANE is a singer’s opera par excellence. All the star vocalists of the 1920s had a go at it. What’s the significance of singing here, in a period when other composers for voice were taking a completely different tack? What’s our ‘takeaway’ from this opera in terms of the connection between singing and Eros?

Christof Loy
In the roles of Heliane and the Stranger we see a kind of sublimation of Eros taking place through the medium of the singing. The Eros of the human voice has an entrancing effect on us. We submit to the voices of the singers and they have a cleansing effect on us. The singing in this opera has a narcotic quality to it. You feel this growing yearning for the singing not to stop. At the key junctures in the opera, when Heliane’s delivering her aria or in the final duet between Heliane and the Stranger, you find yourself thinking: please let this go on for ever and ever.


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Adventskalender 2023

Just like cinnamon and biscuits, the musical Advent calendar is an integral part of the pre-Christmas period. In keeping with the motto "brevity is the spice of life", we will once again be presenting a varied programme in December from Monday to Friday from 5.00 p.m. in the foyers or in the Tischlerei to sweeten the wait for the big festive season. From the presentation of the new scholarship holders, who enrich the vocal ensemble, to readings, piano music and Christmas brass, to a visit from St Nicholas, there's something for everyone. Come along and experience our artists up close!

Our Advent Foyer Programme
Visit our chamber concerts and readings from Monday to Friday, from 5.00 p.m. to approx. 5.25 p.m., in the Rank foyer on the right, in the Parquet Foyer or in the Tischlerei. Admission is free.

1 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
"An American Christmas" - Favourite songs from North and South America
with Julie Wyma, Valeria Delmé and Jamison Livsey

4 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
African American Spirituals
with Christian Simmons and John Parr

5 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet foyer
César Franck: Sonata in A major for violin and piano
with Elisabeth Heise-Glass and Elda Laro

6 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Tischlerei
St Nicholas comes to visit
with Gerard Farreras, Jens Holzkamp and the Junge Deutsche Oper

7 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet foyer
"Christmas is here again"
with the small chorus of the children's chorus, Rosemarie Arzt and Jisu Park

8 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet foyer
Excerpts from Johann Sebastian Bach's "Christmas Oratorio"
with soloists from the children's and youth chorus and the chorus

11 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Tischlerei
"Ding Dong! Merrily on High"
with the VoiceChangers and Rosemarie Arzt

12 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Tischlerei
Our scholarship holders introduce themselves
with Hye-Young Moon, Lilit Davtyan, Youngkwang Oh and Pauli Jämsä

13 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Jewish music for Hanukkah
with Daniel Draganov, Natalie Buck and Maxime Perrin

14 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
"Roses et papillons" - songs by César Franck
with Andrea Schwarzbach and Christian Zacker

15 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Maurice Ravel: "Chansons madécasses"
with Arianna Manganello, Elda Laro, Arne-Christian Pelz, Ruth Pereira-Medina

18 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
"Four tubas for a Merry Christmas"
with Vikentios Gionanidis, Péter Kánya, Thomas Leyendecker and Thomas Richter

19 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Tischlerei
Karol Szymanowksi: Sonata for violin and piano, op. 9
with Magdalena Heinz and Elda Laro

20 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
The golden era of bel canto
with Arianna Manganello and Elda Laro

21 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Rank foyer on the right
Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" - A reading
with Dietmar Schwarz and Fanny Frohnmeyer

22 December 2023 | 5.00 p.m. | Parquet foyer
Christmas singing together
with the brass players of the Deutsche Oper Berlin

All further information in the respective daily door on our homepage

Raffles at the weekends
Because an Advent calendar is of course also filled at weekends and on Christmas Eve, you will find online prize draws on our homepage on Saturdays and Sundays as well as on 24 December. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our co-operation partners such as NAXOS and Sauerländer Audio.